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Ranking Member Cole Opening Remarks During Floor Debate on H. Res. 1067

As prepared for delivery on the House floor, during debate on H. Res. 1067, the rule providing for consideration of H.R. 7617:

Today’s debate is on a rule providing for consideration of H.R. 7617, which contains six of the 12 annual appropriations bills recently reported by the House Appropriations Committee. These six bills include the two largest, Defense and Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, as well as the titles covering Commerce-Justice-Science, Energy and Water Development, Financial Services and General Government, and finally Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

Mr. Speaker, as a member of the Appropriations Committee, it is always encouraging to see the appropriations process moving forward. Passing these 12 bills is one of the biggest responsibilities we have as members of Congress: to fund the government and keep it open and operating for our constituents. 

Despite that great responsibility, I am disappointed by the partisan approach taken by the majority in crafting the bills in this package, and I cannot support them at this time.

I single out the majority in my comments because the 12 bills that were reported out of committee this year were all written to satisfy the concerns and wishes of one party, the Democratic party. While that is often how the appropriations process begins, it is ultimately never where it ends. At the end of the day, for us to pass 12 full-year FY 2021 appropriations bills, in an era of divided government, it will require members on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of Congress to reach consensus. That ultimately means that the partisan bills – like those we are considering today – are a nonstarters and cannot become law.

During markup on these measures in the Appropriations Committee, and again yesterday in the Rules Committee, Republicans rightfully raised several reasons why these bills cannot become law and should not pass the House. 

First, all 12 appropriations bills are marked to 302(b) allocation numbers that violate the fiscal year 2021 total spending limit negotiated in the current budget agreement just last year, which Congress is lawfully bound to uphold. Instead of abiding by the negotiated numbers that were agreed to by both houses of Congress and both parties and by the president, the majority has used a huge amount of emergency-designated funds as a workaround scheme to break that good faith budget agreement. In this bill alone, there is well over two hundred billion dollars in so-called “emergency” spending that violates the budget agreement. This will make it much more difficult to negotiate final bills that can actually become law.

But what’s more disappointing than the widespread use of budget gimmicks is the prolific inclusion of partisan policy riders throughout all 12 appropriations bills, including these six. These riders are simply unacceptable, and they must come out before a bipartisan agreement can be reached.

Consider the bill I am most familiar with, which came out of the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee where I am the ranking member. The text of that bill includes a wide variety of harmful riders.  

In the first instance, the bill includes partisan policy prescriptions that will tie the hands of the Administration with respect to the Title Ten family planning program. Most notably, the riders would force the Administration to resume grants awarded to controversial groups that provide abortions, such as Planned Parenthood, and it would prevent the Administration from granting waivers that protect deeply held religious beliefs of institutions and organizations that provide vital services funded in the bill.  

The Labor-HHS title also includes riders that would undo the Department of Labor’s rule clarifying the “joint employer” standard. If this policy rider were enacted, it would cause chaos for thousands of businesses and millions of employees, leaving them uncertain about the nature of the employment relationship. Not to be outdone, the bill also includes riders micromanaging and second-guessing how HHS administers the unaccompanied alien children program, which will ensure that the individuals devoting their energies to assisting such unaccompanied minors will find themselves devoting their energy to becoming wrapped up ever more deeply in congressionally-mandated red tape.

The same can be said for the other five divisions of this package. Throughout this minibus, the majority has inserted policy riders that tie the hands of the Administration. They have limited the ability of the Administration to reprogram funds, even when necessary. They have inserted rider after rider aimed at preventing the president from spending money on barriers and security measures at the southern border. And they have removed countless bipartisan policy provisions that have been carried in previous year’s bills. Let me say it again – partisan riders like these must come out before a bipartisan agreement can be reached.  

On top of this, while I understand we are living through unprecedented times and have had to rightly limit our physical interactions, I have serious concerns about considering these bills as a six-division, trillion-dollar spending bill. Debating these measures together as one shuts out the ability of most rank-and-file members to have their ideas heard on the floor, or limits them to having their amendments included in massive all-or-nothing en bloc packages, and places many members in an untenable all-or-nothing vote on both the en bloc packages and ultimately final passage of the bill. We can do better than that, Mr. Speaker. We must do better than that.

Mr. Speaker, I am still hopeful we can reach a bipartisan appropriations deal for the full year. If we can get the prolific emergency spending and budget gimmicks out of these bills and if we can eliminate all partisan policy riders, then I think the majority in the House will have a workable starting point to begin negotiations with the Senate toward a bipartisan deal. Under such circumstances, they would still not be the bills I would have written, but they would be a reasonable basis on which to begin negotiations. But until then, these bills will be going absolutely nowhere. They will not pass the Senate, and they will not be signed by the president into law. And frankly, I do not believe they should be passed by the House either.    

With that, I urge opposition to the rule and the underlying legislation, and I reserve the balance of my time.


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